Karelians - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Karelian economy, prior to the changes of 1917 to 1918, combined small-scale agriculture and modest stock raising with hunting (especially of furbearing animals) and fishing. Fur pelts were sold, as were salted and dried fish. In the early twentieth century, burned-over woodland was still farmed in addition to arable land. Livestock included cows, sheep, and goats; pigs were also kept in the southern areas and reindeer in the northern. Ironworks began to develop in the eighteenth century and sawmills in the nineteenth; trade, too, expanded. Some Finnish Karelians began working in Olonec, others in St. Petersburg, and northern Karelians traded in Finland and went to fish in Norway. After the Revolution, the economy of Russian Karelia changed radically: state and collective farms were established and agriculture was mechanized. The forest, mining, and foundry industries were enlarged. Border Karelia, as a section of independent Finland, had to orient itself to Finland rather than to St. Petersburg and Olonec. The lumber industry developed in the region. New arable land was cleared for agriculture.


Industrial Arts. Folk art in some form (weaving, birchbark- and woodwork, ceramics) has today developed into professionally based industrial art. Compared with Finnish folk art, Karelian folk art is more colorful: decorated wood and birch-bark articles (e.g., the archaic wooden spinning seat, kuosali ) and very rich embroidery (traditional pearl-embroidered women's headdresses— sorokk, lakkipaikka, cäpci —and ceremonial towels, käzipaikka ). The influence of Russian folk art on Karelian art is obvious.

Trade. In the nineteenth century Karelians in the Arkhangelsk District of northern Russia traveled around Finland as peddlers ( koroboinik ) selling cloth, textile products, and consumer goods. At the end of the century many Karelian merchants opened shops in Finland. Before 1917 Border Karelian trade was directed toward St. Petersburg. Trade in Soviet Karelia was in state hands; to some extent, however, private enterprise did exist.

Division of Labor. Women performed the household and child-care tasks. Outdoor work included certain agricultural work (e.g., haying and harvesting, threshing), caring for the livestock, and fishing. Women grew and processed flax and wool for spinning, and they spun and wove cloth. While the men were at work or peddling, the younger women often handled the farming and fishing, too. They did not engage in hunting. The older women took care of the household tasks and child raising. In addition to their gainful employment and farming, the men were also skilled carpenters and did their own building. Men were involved in handicrafts such as wood-, straw-, and birch-bark work, smithing, and ceramics, but never those involving textiles. Children first helped with the household chores and looked after their siblings, then gradually became involved in tending the stock and other outdoor tasks. In addition to a division of labor by gender, one can also note a division by generation.

Land Tenure. Conditions of landownership have varied throughout the course of history. In the early nineteenth century Finnish Karelia was still dominated by the so-called system of land grants, which had developed in the previous century, in which the land was in the hands of a few noblemen, the peasants having the right to use it. In the late nineteenth century the peasants were given the right to purchase land for themselves; the state took over some of the land and some peasants became tenant farmers; after 1917 these tenants gained the right to purchase their farms. In nineteenth-century Russian Karelia the peasants were chiefly the czar's peasants but also served the gentry and the monasteries. At that time, there were mirs—village communities that had a collective right to use village land. The reforms of 1861 and 1906-1914 gave the peasants the right to purchase land shares for their own use. An even greater part of the formerly communal land shifted to private ownership. Following the Revolution all land reverted to common ownership, either as cooperative or state farms, in conjunction with the collectivization begun in 1929.


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